The Gathering of the Eternal Five: A Tale Worth Repeating

Chapter 9

And he said to them, “Do not be amazed;

You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was

crucified. He has risen, he is not here.

But go, tell his disciples and Peter

that he is going before you to Galilee: there

you will see him, as he told you.

Mark 16: 6-7      NIV

 

Having stood closely by as a guardian to their privacy Samuel was host to all that was said. He could not help but feel a certain wonder for these two women. He never imagined that women could possess such deep thoughts. It was a revelation he would not soon forget.

Magdalene turned her robe inside out to a different color. Discreetly she left going in one direction while Claudia led Samuel to their surrey by an opposite route. On the way Claudia had to ask, “Did you get an earful of what we said?” It was petty and she knew it but she wanted to know if what they said was going to her husband’s ear. “I learned that women can surmise and shelter deeper thoughts than what is granted them by men. I was surprised but equally delighted that you two ladies share such a sisterly bond. I will consider that a lesson for me alone. I was not near enough to hear what was said, should anybody ask me.” And taking unprecedented liberty he looked at her directly in her eyes then smiled and blinked an eye at her. It was all Claudia could do not to chuckle under her breath. It was more than she ever expected from a young camel herder. She liked the sound of his loyalty.

Two days of waiting finally put Samuel before Pilate to ask for leave. “Sir, I would like to spend some time with my father and sister.” Only a moment passed through Pilate’s mind as he swiftly answered, “Claudia has let it be known that she approves of your work ethics. She feels confident in your ability to handle and protect the animals, yourself and her in turn. See my paymaster and draw your pay, go visit your family for a week only. We will be going to Caesarea then and I want you nearby.”

Before submitting them to record, historians will long debate the validity of some life changing events in the lives of Bernice (Veronica of the veil) and Mary of Magdala (Mary Magdalene).

On her quest to recruit help from Emperor Tiberius she found herself attending a sumptuous feast in his honor. Food in excessive amounts, alcoholic drinks of infinite variety made for a grotesque display of unwarranted waste. Musicians played risqué tunes, dancing girls displayed their feminine attributes in betrayal of common decency. Sinful pleasures abounded in every secluded and not so secluded corners. Men were seen with young boys and women playing intimate games with each other. It was Rome at its gala best. Jugglers and acrobats fought for attention. Wrestlers and magicians lost favor among so many other pleasures so readily available. The stone canopy of the palace filled with odorous smoke from the torches was offensive to Mary of Magdala’s senses. She preferred the briny scented breezes of Galilee. It would not be Rome if an elegantly dressed woman did not appear with two cheetahs on a leach to sit imperiously on a high back chair and review the human circus before her. She was the wife of Emperor Tiberius and known as Julia, the elder. She surveyed Mary of Magdala keenly as Mary’s reputation had arrived long before her person. Women of Mary’s reputation had been known to disrupt happy marriages before. Her husband though not a young man anymore could fall victim to an exotic and well formed woman as Mary of Magdala lavishly displayed. It was rumored she used ways to revitalize weary soldiers of love. And where Julia could not allow a fleck of jealousy to show, she nonetheless made it difficult for Magdalene and her husband Tiberius to be close or alone. Already Magdalene’s visit claimed the attention of no less than three men anxious to share her couch in vain. This night, she seemed possessed with thoughts of her own. Sipping water from a golden cup she enjoyed the risqué tunes with impish smiles and kept time with a dainty foot. She had formally requested an audience with Tiberius and received no response. She was effectively not invited to this decadence but she had a case to present and would risk much to get results. Her families properties were at stake and all else she may desire could wait for a better time and place.

On this night Tiberius was the model of sobriety. A messenger came to his side and eyeing Mary of Magdala with a tilted eyebrow pointed her out to the emperor. From across a field of debauchery, the emperor bid her come to him. Julia the elder adjusted her hold on the cheetahs and moved closer to her husband. Along the way for reasons Mary of Magdala could never explain, she picked up a fresh egg from a decorative chicken nest basket and toyed with it as she approached the venerated presence of the mightiest voice in all of Rome. Mary of Magdala had every conceivable reason to be nervous in such opulence and raw power.

Introductions were made by the proper official and Magdalene’s letter given to the emperor. With significant disregard over such a petty request he placed it aside. Not too gently. He was annoyed by it.

After giving her silent scrutiny from flank to flank and top to toe, he finally spoke, “Oh yes. You come from a land where carpenters walk on water and dead men get up and stroll away from the grave of their destiny, don’t you?” He said it in open mockery with a near chuckle under his breath, inviting others to join.

And when evening came, the boat was

out to sea, and he was alone on the land.

And he saw that they were making headway

Painfully, for the wind was against them.

And about the fourth watch of the

Night he came to them, walking on the sea.

Mark 6:47-48   NIV

 

Knowing full well that Tiberius referred to the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, Mary of Magdala prepared her most diplomatic answer. “Yes Sire. It is true. I was first hand witness to his death and I was there when he left the tomb and spoke to me the morning after.”

Mary of Magdala was notably nervous as the emperor finally saw her toying with the glossy white egg in her hand. He spoke openly and not too courteous. “You have been deceived, young woman. You are the victim of a sinister plot. A scheme invented by demented and self serving minds. I repeat no man walks away from  his grave. Your low-born carpenter is not God enough to do that. Neither can he walk on water.”

Mary of Magdala had by now recovered some of her self assurance and was empowered by the emperor’s disbelief, on the brink of calling her a liar. She had much at stake and must keep her wits in check.

“All mighty Emperor Tiberius, I did not come all this way to insult you with lies. What I know to be is fact and what I have seen with my own eyes is not a fabrication, sir.”

Unruffled Tiberius continued, “Your name is Mary of Magdala. Your exploits have reached my ear. I’ve heard many stories about you” and did not hide an unbecoming smirk on his face.

“Not as many stories as I have heard about myself sire. It would take a herd of lawyers to prove any of them true. As you so clearly stated, I am a victim of demented minds for a separate reason.” Mary had regained her self-assurance and it was clearly visible. Not cocky but in a respectable stance and words carefully chosen.

With certain pensiveness the emperor clearly stated. “Be your reputation whatever it is does not apply to your reason for being here. Your devotion to the resurrection of that carpenter is not likely to be true as that egg in your hand is not likely to ever turn red. Mary of Magdala opened her hand and before more than a dozen startled witnesses the egg in her hand turned to a blushing shade of red. Having seen countless tricks by would-be magicians the emperor was outwardly displeased with such a blatant display of disregard for his intelligence. How dare this woman of ill repute try a cheap trick on him?

“Young woman, you stand close to raising my ire with such a trick.”

Mary of Magdala raised her hands and tearfully exclaimed in near shock visible to all. “Lord, Tiberius, I am not a trickster. I only know what is true and now you have seen the miracles the man Jesus of Nazareth is capable of. My dear Lord, I would never attempt to make a mockery of your intelligence. The proof of his ability is before your eyes and delivered to you on your request. I do not know how this happened but, here I see another one of his miracles. Eggs have long been the symbol life’s rebirth, my Lord. His resurrection in the period of life’s renewal has to be mandated by a superior God. The father of Jesus of Nazaeth.   My own people have turned their backs to him and yet he was raised to heaven by a host of angels. Sire, my dear Emperor Tiberius do not shut the door to this miracle as I feel certain others will follow.” Mary of Magdala was a stream of painful tears before a growing circle of sobering guests all eager to disqualify the red egg. Equally struck by unprecedented awe, Mary of Magdala felt a gentle hand grip her heart as she fully accepted His message. Jesus, the Christ had spoken to her before. She took assurance that He was close by. No one had ever seen a red egg before. Tiberius had the egg confiscated. When no logical explanation came forth, he was forced to accept what he saw as a possible miracle. As the emperor, could he believe it was an invitation to alter his faith? Every God known to man has been jealous of every other God. He could well be jealous of that carpenter from Nazareth that walked away from his grave and rose                           to heaven escorted by a host of angels. It was no doubt, an impossible act to follow. Tiberius was a mortal man and was granted Tribunician power for life. It made him sacred and inviolable to other men. In effect he was a living God. He had the power to cut down any law devised by his most learned scholars. From his seat of power he could condemn the whole Hebrew nation to hell for castigating Mary of Magdala. If only he would. He clearly chose to disbelieve the shaded egg as being a Devine message. Judea was full of unexplainable tricks. Virgins don’t give birth and remain virgin. Two men walked away from their graves. First Lazarus then the convicted carpenter from Nazareth. Dead men do not rise to heaven escorted by angels. Never having seen an angel, he found it easy to discharge the thought as one more trick. He chose to accept what the written testimony reported, “It was somebody’s laundry caught up in the desert wind that made fools out of seemingly intelligent people. Not that dead carpenter.” Tiberius was an intelligent man not swayed by gossip and fairy tales. No one can truly say that he felt a twinge of reserved acceptance of what he saw and heard. Mary of Magdala presented her case intelligently. She was an educated woman with a keen grasp of court etiquette. Her reputation did not match her conduct on this occasion. She was seen expelling various attempts to win her attention. She remained aloof of the celebration in progress. She dressed in tones of creamy white and mellow green. A reserved array of glittering jewelry decorated her wrists and a fine gold chain favored her slender neck. Her hair was neatly arranged to present her face at full value with no pretense or grand exaggeration. She even                                            possessed a certain royal attitude in her stride and gestures. Tiberius was informed that an impressive carriage complete with proper escort brought her to the palace front entrance. She had a hand maiden attending her and she kept the maid safe from distractions. For which Tiberius granted her silent praise. But a ghost of her reputation stayed close by. Women of her vocation were known to be great actresses. This could well be the cleverest Charade he ever saw. Tiberius promised to look into her case and turned his attention elsewhere.  Mary had one more task to perform. One she had almost forgotten in her state of mind and near shock over the red egg.

“My dear Emperor Tiberius, I have something special for you before I leave.” With obvious annoyance, he gave her a sidelong look with a tinge of contempt. She was overstaying her welcome. From her inner robe Mary of Magdala brought out a small scroll. It was a letter from Claudia to her grandfather. Politely yet clear enough for all to hear Mary made her statement. “I apologize sincerely for my absence of mind. I was so engrossed in my own mission I forgot a letter addressed to you from your granddaughter Claudia Procula in Judea.”

 

An instant change in attitude along with a faint smile transformed the stone mask of Tiberius into a mellow face of anticipation. “You know my granddaughter, Claudia?” He asked in near surprise and disbelief.

“We are best friends, sire. We had lunch prior to my coming here and she entrusted me with this letter for you.”

Anxious hands received the scroll and swiftly rolled out the message. He read it slowly as if not to miss a word. Smiling he rolled it back and slipped it into his inner robe. He flayed his hands to discharge other people waiting to see the mighty Tiberius who was now a docile grandfather anxious to ask about the little girl that grew up behind the curtains of his office. He bid Mary of Magdala come closer and so did Julia the elder with both her cheetahs.

“Tell me, how is she? I last heard that she now has three children and the two little girls look like their mother. Is that true?” He never gave her a chance to answer. Unbecoming the Emperor of almighty Rome, he was overly anxious to hear about his granddaughter and his great grandchildren. Rank and high position never deny the heart to love one’s family. “I hold a reserved spot for your miracle healer and escapee of his tomb, Jesus of Nazareth. As you well know. I have it on good report that my great grandson, Pilo was healed of his club foot by this tricky homeless carpenter. Is that true?”

“Yes Sire. It is true. Young Pilo walks without restraint and is a happy boy. Marcella and Horatia both look very much like Claudia.

Sire, Claudia has developed into lovely women. She has gained much knowledge since living in Rome. Pilate does not always know which little girl is which. It is much to your granddaughter’s chagrin that Pilate often calls his own little girls by the wrong name. But, I think he does it to get Claudia’s attention and squeeze a smile out of her. They’re a happy family, sire. The children rile their father by playing hide and go seek around his desk at home in Caesarea. Pilate wanted his son Pilo to enter the military to serve you, sire. Since the recovery from his club foot, I do not know where that decision is as of now. The boy mimics his father’s every move. Tutors come every day to instruct the children separately. I could tell by the look on Claudia’s face that she misses you. Her eyes were glassy when she spoke of you. I am not sure but I think she gave thought to coming with me and visit you.” Tiberius and Mary spoke at length with Julia the elder close by, keeping her cheetahs at close rein and even found joy in the report that pleased her husband. Begrudgingly Tiberius was forced to end the visit in lieu of other high ranking callers. As a passing note he said, “We should speak again. Hopefully soon.”

Volumes of legendary stories would pursue the truth of these events. Tiberius had become a sick man and suffered much from unknown causes. He had been called to the attention of the miracle worker in Judea. But he chose to regard it as a homespun fabrication. A fairy tale to put children to sleep at night. None of those things had a sound base. It was impossible for him to accept a speck of truth in all he heard. His logic was often sound and gave much thought to publically accepting the words of the Nazarene which would denounce Jupiter, the God of his fathers and his people. Such an action would incite riots. Rebellion would ensue. Blood would paint the streets of Rome in flowing crimson. Armies would rise against their own brothers. The empire could be ripped in pieces and cause devastating wars. It was far wiser to be compassionate to the Jewish predicament. Judea was the smallest, least significant colony of the Roman Empire. His own people lived there now. A sizeable contingent of soldiers held the land in simmering peace. No, he could not envelop Jesus and his teachings into the fold of Roman thought. No one need know what he held in his heart. That was his alone.

Accepting the life mode of the time, one must realize that news of an ailing Emperor would fan out in all directions. Rambling stories of cancers affecting his Royal person and rumors of worms infesting his intestines. It was even reported by travelers that the streets of Rome buzzed with Tiberius being plagued by a face full of pimples.

Such voluminous news did not take long to reach the humble Bernice in faraway Judea. Tiberius was her emperor.  He was a sick man and she had a possible cure in her home. Friends and relatives were living proof to the miracles her head scarf delivered. A single look at the face of a tormented Jesus clearly imprinted on Bernice’s head cover was a miracle cure enjoyed by a number of people. On that ground Bernice would take a journey full of obstacles to reach Emperor Tiberius. She gave no thought to the hardships ahead or the reality that she would not be allowed in his presence. She did not accept the awesome certainty that the Emperor would cringe and refuse to be touched by her sweat rag. A kitchen towel she used over her head. Determined and empowered by unprecedented faith she set forth on an expedition from which she may not return. Her destination was the city of Caesars, all mighty Rome. Her mission was to bring a possible cure to the mightiest power of the known world, Emperor Tiberius.

Her way to the emperor would be through the back kitchen door. Where slaves and the poorest of people clustered and fought for throw away food. Vendors and low class household personnel entered through these congested and filthy doors. It was her lucky day experienced house cleaners were needed to service the emperor’s quarters. She carried the precious mantle carefully wrapped under her clothes and eagerly accepted the task. A portly woman in charge of domestic help led the awe stricken Bernice to her assignment. She would dust, wipe, scrub and clean the hallways leading to the Emperor’s quarters. Walls of impeccable white embellished with bigger than life paintings of Rome’s past glory. An entire wall portrayed panoramic views of the Seven Hills of Rome. Romulus and his brother Remus being suckled by their foster mother wolf took up part of another wall. A separate alcove portrayed Julius Caesar and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra painted close to reality. It could be said that Cleopatra was not the epitome of feminine beauty. An opinion formed even by the less informed Bernice. On a large door leading to a meeting chamber hung a huge golden wreath with the letters SPQR boldly centered (Senatus Populus Que Romanus) in bold red. Such spectacular images of Roman power intimidated the humble soul of Bernice. How in the world was she to present her                           miracle sweat rag to the mighty Tiberius? Her Lord, Jesus must have been close by that day because suddenly the door swung open to a scramble of boisterous men in a rush. At a step down on the floor she saw someone in the crowd stumble and fall painfully on his twisted ankle.The individual cringed in need of help almost screaming in pain and doubled over to rub the injury. She saw her opportunity and took it. Weaving herself through the crowd, she squirmed her way to the fallen individual. She retrieved her precious mantle then allowed him to see it. In an instant flash of panic the man looked at her scarf then saw her. Perhaps dumbstruck by such audacity in his condition. As he made an effort to get up, he realized he was not hurt at all. His pain dissolved instantly. iHis He just had a bad Slip at the ankle and was in top form. The mantle swiftly went back into hiding. One man of keen observance saw what happened and summoned her come with him. She followed in fear knowing she had no choice but to obey the tall burly man. He was a close associate of Emperor Tiberius and brought Bernice to his presence. He spoke to Tiberius in whispers looking at the humbled and frightened woman with side glances. Finally he called her to come forward and spoke softly as if being courteous to someone of her class. “Are you Bernice from Judea?” he asked.

“Yes, my lord. I am.”

“Are you the woman who is said to possess a rag that heals people?” “Yes, my Lord. I am. It bears the image of Jesus of Nazareth and many people have found remedy to their ills by looking at the image. I came to Rome in hopes of having the glorious Emperor Tiberius look at itand hopefully cure him of his maladies.” Bernice, poor Bernice was so frightened she could hardly speak. “And how is it you know the Emperor suffers maladies?” he asked in true wonder. “Sir, it is common knowledge in Judea. And it came to me from various sources.”  The second man whom Bernice had not seen laid semi prostrate on a luxurious couch. He looked at her with tearful eyes and called her forth. From where she found the strength to obey, she did not know. She only knew that the mightiest voice of Rome called to her and Jesus had his hand on her shoulder.

On her knees she approached the emperor and addressed him with all the courtesy she knew. “Sire, on this humble mantle is the image of Jesus of Nazareth. He was a healer and provider of many miracles in Judea. I did not know if his miracles followed him here. But, I tried it on a man that had fallen and had a serious bump on his ankle a few moments ago. I showed him the mantle and the man stood up unharmed in an instant. I did not know how I was going to reach you and give you the benefit of the cloth.” Her escort looked at Tiberius and nodded his head in compliance. Without a medical report it was obvious Tiberius was in pain. As if desperate for relief he bade her rise and come to him. Agony glistened in his eyes and the emperor looked like any other man in pain. Cautiously Bernice came to her feet, retrieved the mantle and allowed the image to show in clear light. Tiberius took a deep breath and clearly stated, “I saw that man’s face in a dream a few nights ago.” He looked at the image and only Tiberius could rightly say if he prayed to the face on the humble mantle. Could it really be a portrait of the son of God? Only Tiberius could confirm or deny his innermost feelings regarding his unorthodox cure. The mightiest voice of Rome felt the touch of the son of God and could not announce it publically. What he felt in his mind and heart went to the grave with him.

Relief came in notable installments. Within days the doctors found no trace of his former condition. He summoned Bernice, now sheltered in a reserved location and relieved of duty as an honored guest. In top form he spoke in reserved whispers and abbreviated phrases. “Does your Jesus desire to return to earth and rule Judea as king of the Jews?”Seemingly his greatest concern was addressed first.

“My dear Lord, his kingdom is one of kindness to others. His mission as I know it was to come to earth, be sacrificed and his sacrifice be payment in full for the sins of mankind. He never sought an earthly throne as you know it, Sire. His mission was to correct those that tell lies, steal from others, and disrespect their fathers and the law. To heal the sick and bring goodness to the forefront.”  The Emperor would not soon forget the miracle he recently hosted. He called to someone close by and gestured the person with a prearranged signal. A large leather purse was brought forth. No doubt containing more gold than Bernice would see in a life time. The person delivered the heavy purse to Bernice, who held it for only a second and returned it immediately. “Sire, I cannot accept payment for something I did not do. Sire, your gratitude is misdirected. You need to praise him that brought forth relief from your maladies. I am only a person delivering his request to bring you release from pain.

“Your Jesus works in mysterious ways. He rejects the crown of kingship and refuses gold to feed you with. You are penniless and a stranger in Rome. Your wardrobe is close to rags.  How do you propose to get back home without passage on even the poorest ship?’

“Sire, He devised a way for me to reach you and bring you comfort that you may conduct your business with ease. You know and I know that I would never be allowed in your presence. Let alone touch your royal person with my sweat cloth without a miracle in the working.”

“You’re saying that this Jesus individual performed a miracle so you could be in my presence?”

“Sire, if you have a better explanation I beg you share it with me.”

He bowed and shook his head, “Have it your way. You’re welcome to stay in your quarters as long as you wish.  I’ll have someone see to your wardrobe and food. When you’re ready to go home, I will arrange passage for you.”

[Previous Episode] [Next Episode]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.